Friday, March 8, 2013

Child Welfare: Strict Due Process Not Required and Court’s Failure to Allow Withdrawal of Admissions is Harmless Error

In Re: A.K. (H.K. v. State of Utah), 2012 UT App. 232, Utah Court of Appeals, August 16, 2012

Mother and children were under Juvenile Court jurisdiction.  Mother failed to comply with the reunification plan and attempted to flee with the children.  The children were removed from Mother.

The State petitioned to terminate mother’s rights.  The State sought discovery from mother in the form of 206 Requests for Admissions.  Mother gave a blanket denial on the last possible day and later admitted to 126 of the requests.  The trial court found mother’s blanket denial ineffective and deemed all 206 admitted, granted the state summary judgment as to unfitness and held a trial as to best interests.  The trial concluded in the termination of mother’s parental rights.  Mother appealed the trial court’s action of deeming the requests admitted, and the trial court’s failure to hold a shelter hearing after the final removal.

The Court of Appeals found the right to due process (i.e. the request for a shelter hearing) was not violated by the lack of a shelter hearing because mother admitted to sufficient grounds for the removal.  Even if the shelter hearing was required and was held the result would have been held, the result would be the same.

The Court of Appeals also found that the trial court’s alleged misconduct as to the Request for Admissions could be no more than harmless error. This is because Mother admitted to 126 of the requests and the remaining requests were proven by testimony.

Lastly as to mother’s criticism of the Court of Appeals manner of handling juvenile court matters (i.e. awarding special deference to conclusions of the juvenile court), the Court of Appeals again rejects any need for de novo review of child welfare cases.

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